The Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association is out with new research that looks at how electronic health records (EHRs) and patient-generated data can lead to burnout in clinical situations. You’re probably used to entering information and clicking through virtual menus all day long, but how are these digital tools affecting your physical and mental health?
It’s more complicated than you might think.
The Problem with EHRs
The report comes from Jiancheng Ye, a PhD student at Northwestern University. He found that EHRs and integrating patient data can create challenges and obstacles on the job. Providers go to work to take care of other people, but all this technology can get in the way.
We’re used to thinking about burnout as a side effect of working long hours, dealing with life-and-death situations, and the stress of working through a pandemic, but that’s not the full story.
As Ye writes, “Clinician burnout is not only a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, but also a type of cynicism about job responsibilities. Burnout is a reaction marked by lacking the sense of accomplishment, feeling emotionally exhausted, and experiencing depersonalization.”
After all, you probably didn’t go into healthcare to sit in front of a computer all day. And those feelings of frustration can lead to decreased work satisfaction, poor job performance, and increased stress and anxiety on the floor.
How Tech and Patient Information Leads to Burnout
Healthcare providers have patient information coming at them from every direction. Whether the patient is using wearables, such as a remote monitoring device or smartwatch, answering questions in the doctor’s office, or filling out a questionnaire before their appointment, nurses and clinicians often spend their time analyzing all this information as they enter it into the person’s chart.
“Coupled with deployed electronic health records, patient portals and secure messaging, these new types of data enable patients to actively engage in the health care process, further improving the connection with their HCPs,” Ye wrote in the report.
But all this extra info can throw some providers for a loop.
Ye breaks it down into three distinct categories:
The term technostress refers to stress or psychosomatic illness caused by working with computer technology on a daily basis. This is happening to workers across virtually every industry, but nurses and healthcare providers can easily fall prey to technostress on the job, especially if they aren’t familiar with the tools they’ve been assigned to work with. This can lead to what’s known as “techno-overload” and feelings of technological insecurity.
- Time Pressure:
Many of these tools can lead to delays that take away from the patient’s experience. Instead of trying to make a human connection, providers have to interpret this data while facing strict time constraints. While patient allotment times remain constant, some providers are under pressure to do more with their time, despite the challenges of working with complex computer systems.
As Ye writes, “Physicians have to work harder and even faster because the time has not been extended.”
- Workflow-Related Issues:
Technology can also lead to burnout when providers are inundated with messages, pop-up notifications, and alerts, especially if some of them are duplicate or non-essential.
“In some cases, the [patient-generated health data] systems send the patient’s data directly to a physician, likely through their mobile phones or electronic messaging systems. This mechanism, while efficient in urgent situations, may be burdensome to [providers] and can lead to fatigue if not all notifications are relevant,” Ye added.
Overcoming EHR-Related Burnout
The report includes several tips to help facilities and their staff deal with these issues. Healthcare technology is here to stay, but it doesn’t have to contribute to provider burnout and fatigue.
“If physicians find it easy and comfortable to review and interpret [patient-generated health data], then burnouts will decrease,” wrote Ye.
Ye wants administrators, managers, and other industry experts to learn more about how this technology can affect staff and daily workflows. He says giving providers clear roles in the workplace so they don’t have to second-guess themselves on the job can help reduce some of this anxiety and uncertainty. He’s also calling on companies and facilities to streamline the patient information capture process, so providers don’t get overwhelmed by too many notifications or deal with duplicate information.
Women and critical care assistants reported the highest levels of burnout, describing long hours and bureaucratic tasks as the main culprit.
If you’re feeling down during your shifts, your tech workflow may have something to do with it. Consider changing the tools you use to care for your patients to make your life easier.